Imagine if the New York Times gave half-price ad space to the National Right to Life Committee or the National Rifle Association. It would never happen, of course, but if it did, you can envision the left-wing clamor. Liberal groups would be demanding that the Times extend to them the same discounts. So conservatives were understandably outraged over the revelation that the New York Times gave a full page of ad space in the front section to the liberal activist group Moveon.org for a mere $66,575. That's less than one half of the Times' listed rate for a full-page ad.
Then a few days ago the Times revealed that Moveon.org had cut the newspaper a check for an additional $77,508. The official story is that someone at the Times made a simple mistake. The newspaper, you see, charges its full rate to an advertiser who specifies when an ad should run, and a lower rate to advertisers who allow the Times to run ads on a space-available basis. Moveon.org, it turns out, had placed the ad to run on a specific date, September 10, one day before the sixth anniversary of September 11 and around the time General David Petraeus was scheduled to address Congress. But darn it, the ad salesperson charged Moveon.org the wrong rate.
So what part of the official story doesn't make sense? Actually, all of it. Who is the ad salesman who made this $77,000 mistake? The Times won't say. How did the mistake get made? Spokesperson Catherine Mathis is quoted in the Times itself declining to comment. Now it would be one thing for a sales rep to make a $25 mistake. But a $77,000 error demands a different kind of explanation. Ordinarily an error of this magnitude would get a person fired or suspended or at least reprimanded. According to the Times, Mathis "declined to discuss whether any disciplinary action would be taken." What about the newspaper's own policy that declares, "We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature?" Mathis idiotically asserts, "The Times believes the ad was within our acceptability guidelines."
Now here's the real story. While the policy forbids personal attacks, the folks at the New York Times apparently have very clear ideas of which personal attacks are acceptable and which are not. Since Moveon.org was calling General Petraeus "General Betray Us," this type of personal attack quickly passed muster at the Times. For Mathis and the other champions of objectivity at the newspaper, the ad was regarded as not rising to the level of an "attack of a personal nature." All this is pure doublespeak, of course, but of a kind that is now characteristic of the New York Times. Once confined to the editorial page, the doublespeak has now invaded the news pages and apparently extends to the newspaper's advertising standards.
Let’s look at the content of the Moveon.org ad. The organization accused Petraeus of cooking the books and manipulating the facts to back up Bush's surge and his Iraq policy more generally. How did Petraeus rig the data? Moveon.org didn’t really say. But clearly the editors of the New York Times wanted to help Moveon.org in its goal of smearing General Petraeus, so that their own ongoing campaign against Bush's policies could be given a boost.
Now that the smear has come to light, I'm sure there are some real regrets at the Times. Yet I doubt they have to do with a lapse in judgment or a double-standard or anything like that. I suspect that the fretting at the Times is entirely over the fact that its preferential advertising rates for a left-wing organization became public knowledge. In other words, some fool at Moveon.org spilled the beans, and the Times at that point had no choice but to make the group pay the full price. All the news that's fit to print? Perhaps they should change the motto to, "All the news that fits our ideology."